RESIDENTS have raised fears tolls on the new Mersey Gateway Bridge could act like a ‘tax on ill health’.

People living in Warrington will have to pay £2 each way to make the crossing to reach Halton Hospital and the Cheshire and Merseyside Treatment Centre in Runcorn in 2017.

The facility was brought into use by the Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in January 2013 as the new home for orthopaedic surgery for patients in the town leading to worries some will have to pay to cross the bridge for their operation.

Concerned resident Chris Lee, from Great Sankey, said: “Of course residents in Widnes use Halton Hospital in Runcorn and rightly complain that they will be charged for going to hospital or visiting relatives but Warrington residents are also sent to Halton and face what is effectively a tax on ill health.

“We will be subsidising the residents of Halton while suffering all the disadvantages of traffic avoiding the tolls.

“Again I have to ask just where do our councillors and MPs stand on this matter? The silence is deafening.”

Simon Wright, chief operating officer at Warrington and Halton Hospitals said he was in the process of writing to the management of the Mersey Gateway to look at avoiding charging patients who travel to and from both hospitals.

He added: “We feel it is important that these issues should be considered.

“We are pleased to see that Halton Borough Council has secured a local user discount for tolls which will also help.

“At the same time we are currently developing more services on the Halton General site - including the planned urgent care centre facility and more of our routine surgical services.”

Representatives from the Mersey Gateway project said they rejected the idea the bridge tolls were a ‘tax on ill health’ and said congested crossings across the Mersey in Halton and Warrington would have much more of an impact.

A spokesman added: “The new Mersey Gateway Bridge will significantly improve the reliability and speed of cross-river journeys for emergency service vehicles, public transport users and drivers and this will help save lives in the area.

“It will also reduce pollution, free up the road network and mean we can invest in improved public transport services to better connect key local services.

“While Government has insisted that the only way Mersey Gateway can be built is through tolls, Halton Borough Council and our partners at Merseylink have already announced details of a local residents discount scheme for Halton residents, and off-peak and travel anytime monthly passes for regular users.”

Warrington South MP David Mowat added: “My main concern is not so much that people will end up paying the toll, it’s that the majority of drivers will avoid paying the toll by travelling through Warrington instead of across the new bridge.

“This was a point I made at the original Public Inquiry and one I continue to lobby the Chancellor on.
“Just last week a cross-party group of MPs, including me, met with the Chancellor on this subject.

“Anyone who sat in one of those terrible traffic jams just before Christmas will know that our road network is getting close to its capacity. A new crossing should be taking the strain from Warrington not adding to it.

“Neither the last nor the present government could fund the bridge without a toll. The key will be to get it reduced as much as possible.”